Olympic Gold for Brompton

The one bright spot in the otherwise intensely puerile 8 minutes of the London presentation for the Olympic closing ceremony was the appearance of a Brompton.

Hackney Handover - Brompton
Hackney Handover- Brompton at extreme right.

I suppose it’s too much to hope that this quirky and clever British invention – and probably now the only vehicle of any kind designed and manufactured in England – should be made the official vehicle of London 2012. Because that might suggest that these would at have some pretension to being a green Olympics, an impression the organisers have so far gone to some lengths to avoid by removing the Manor Gardens ‘Olympic’ allotments from the site.

The Brompton became quickly one of my favourite photographic accessories when I bought one at the end of 2002. You can take it on trains, on the underground, get off, unfold it in 15 seconds and ride it away. The front bag is a good place to carry cameras, and you can stop anywhere to take pictures, unlike a car where by the time you have found a place to park you may face a long walk to the location – or have missed the chance of a picture.

It’s also handy when parked against a fence or wall, adding up to a couple of feet to your height to see over obstacles – one foot on the saddle and one on the handlebars for maximum lift, enabling you to climb up easily on walls and look over fences. It’s almost like having a short step-ladder with you.

If necessary you can walk with it, and it carries your kit like a trolley. You can climb up footbridges with it on your shoulder, set it down and ride away and it can also take you reasonable distances at a decent speed. It’s not a good off-road choice, but on a decent surface can travel at a good pace, and I’ve often covered 20 or 30 miles, occasionally more.

But its real forte is rush-hour traffic, when I’ve made journeys across London in minutes that would have taken at least twice as long in car or taxi or by underground. With a Brompton, London seems much smaller – even if, like me, you usually stop at red traffic lights and keep to the correct direction on one-way streets – and its short wheelbase makes weaving in and out of cars held up in traffic easy.

It’s only real down-side is that it’s a powerful magnet for thieves, with a high second-hand value getting quick sales at on-line auction sites and on dodgy market stalls.  Forget D-locks, heavy chains, it’s never safe to leave it locked- you just have to take it everywhere with you, which can occasionally be a problem even though it folds pretty small.

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